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Leonardo da Vinci's To-Do List

An architect, an engineer, a ninja turtle, a painter--Leonardo da Vinci did it all. He applied his mind to every field of study available to him. You can get a sense of that from a to-do list that he jotted down sometime in the 1490s. Scholars found it in one of his surviving notebooks. Pictured above is an artistic representation of it by Wendy MacNaughton. In a 2011 article on National Public Radio, Robert Krulwich argues that Leonardo's scattered attention teaches us something about how we less ingenious people can improve our minds:

"We live in an age that worships attention," says my friend (and Radiolab colleague) Jonah Lehrer. "When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."

That ability to let go, float free, does seem like an essential part of a creative mind, not just in giant ones. Those of us who make our livings closer to the ground, have to do it too. In his forthcoming book, (coming to bookstores this Spring) Jonah mentions a study by Dr. Holly White, then at the University of Memphis, and her colleague Priti Shah, of the University of Michigan. […]

Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, the study suggests. Or, as Jonah chose to put it, there are "unexpected benefits of not being able to focus."

-via David Thompson


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